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Spermicide for Birth Control - Topic Overview

Effectiveness in preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

Spermicides used alone do not protect against STIs, including infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). You must use a condom for the best possible STI protection.

Most spermicides contain a chemical called nonoxynol-9 (N9). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that N9 in vaginal contraceptives and spermicides may irritate the lining of the vagina or rectum. This may increase the risk of getting HIV/AIDS from an infected partner.

Advantages of spermicides

  • They do not affect future fertility for either the woman or the man.
  • They are used only at the time of sexual intercourse.
  • They are safe to use while breast-feeding (birth control that contains estrogen affects milk supply).
  • They are less expensive than hormonal methods of birth control.
  • They are safe for women who have other health problems (birth control that contains estrogen makes some health conditions worse).

Disadvantages of spermicides

Failure rates for barrier methods are higher than for most other methods of birth control. Other disadvantages include the following:

  • Spermicides cause an extra discharge from the vagina. Women who use spermicides should not douche for at least 8 hours after intercourse so that the spermicide continues to work to prevent pregnancy. (Douching is not recommended for women in general.)
  • Some people are allergic to nonoxynol-9, the active ingredient in most spermicides. They can develop itching or sores in the vagina or on the penis, which make it more likely that HIV can be passed from an infected person during sex.
  • The nonoxynol-9 in spermicides may also increase the risk of getting HIV/AIDS from an infected partner.
  • Some people are embarrassed to use spermicide and a barrier method or worry that it may interrupt foreplay or intercourse. This can create a problem with using it every time they have sex.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: /2, 14 1
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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